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Dawn Yoder

Finding My Voice

April 20, 2012 at 6:05 AM

My fortieth birthday came and went last fall without much fanfare. I wasn't really what you'd call excited to be the Big 4-0, but I at least didn't have a break down.

I didn't go buy an expensive little red convertible, hire a steamy pool boy with a six pack, or any other out-of-character thing for "my midlife crisis", I decided to learn to play the violin. Rather, I succumbed to the overwhelming longing to play that beautiful instrument.

You see, there is something buried deep within me that get OUT. But in order to do that, it needs a voice. And the only suitable voice is the soulful singing of strings.

I realized recently that this journey of Finding My Voice is beginning much like a baby learning to talk. First there are sounds, then babbling, then muddled words and cute little ways of saying thing wrongly, all a progression of acquiring language skills and becoming proficient in one's native tongue. Some are very adept at speaking, others...not so much.

So it also seems, to me, with learning to play the violin. First you make sounds, some strange, some high-pitched screeching at times. Then you learn how to control the bow better, how to make the sound correctly. You learn simple rhythms, notes, how to put them together to make an actual piece of music. You begin to speak the language of the violin.

I've had three lessons now. I'm working hard to learn to correctly position myself, to relax, to I can become proficient and adept at playing this instrument I love. I'm making sounds...a bit of babbling, perhaps.

I know much work and practice lie ahead of me and I look forward to it. I practice every moment I can get a chance...I have 6ths going through my head right now since my teacher taught me those this week. I want to sneak into my closet, get out my violin and play, but one can not really "sneak" and play the violin. My family is sleeping soundly...I know better.

And so I wait. But inside, the voice of my violin is singing. I do not want to be misunderstood when speaking, I don't want to turn people away with my singing, so I will practice, practice, practice...always reaching for the next level of this language I'm learning.

I close my eyes and see myself playing beautiful music on this violin...this new part of me that I'm getting to know, that I'm already completely in love with. It is like not play is almost like not having air to breathe! I must!!

From Emily Hogstad
Posted on April 20, 2012 at 2:51 PM
What a lovely blog. I play in a group made up largely of people who started in their forties, fifties, or even sixties, and we do good work. The instrument brings a lot of joy to a lot of people in any season of their life. And I have so much respect for adult beginners, you wouldn't believe it.
From Marsha Weaver
Posted on April 20, 2012 at 2:58 PM
So eloquent, Dawn!! I've been playing since age 60 (I'm 62 now) -- you've summed up a lot of feelings that I just hadn't put into words. Thank you! :)
From michael carrico
Posted on April 20, 2012 at 3:04 PM
you could have done worse than the violin. critics are everywhere and most will find nothing good to to play when no one is around. look at the early church/cathedral choirs. where did they?sing behind the congregation . more or less out of sight. find a place out of view that is my first place to play for me. but when the person next door beats on the wall like a ton of gods wrath then just move out.if the family is still annoyed then buy a second violin then at least they won't know which one you are getting down on.
playing for spiritual enrichment better than playing for money.
From Yong Xin Yaw
Posted on April 20, 2012 at 4:20 PM
Thank you for sharing. I like the your analogy of playing Violin with learning a new language.

I started at 29 years old. This is my 7th month :)

From Tim Sharron
Posted on April 20, 2012 at 5:42 PM
Wonderful blog! I did the same thing at 40 and used the same thought process about the mid-life crisis. No motorcycle or red sports car, a viola. Twelve years later, I am still less than fluent, but I would fit in a nice junior high orchestra. I would not trade the experience for anything! It has made me appreciate the work and skills of professionals.
From Nicky Paxton
Posted on April 20, 2012 at 6:38 PM
I can identify with the OP and with Tim. I started playing the violin again in 2009/10 after a decades-long gap, I think more to my surprise than to anyone else's. I don't consider myself to be particularly good, but I managed to get a seat in a good, established amateur orchestra. Orchestra and playing the easier movements of unaccompanied Bach keep me happy, but I still have to motivate myself to do the essential scales and studies. I would certainly miss playing if I stopped again.
From ronny posumah
Posted on April 21, 2012 at 12:49 AM
A very nice experience.. Yours is just like me. I started to learn violin three years ago...and now I am very happy to be able to play Hallelujah Chorus by Handel last Easter. I played violin two.. What great experience. And now I just want more, take the cello class this year, and flute for the next project.
My life is full exitement now, far away from everyday work at the bank. I practice everyday, go to rehearsal, playing at church, meet new people and friends.
Someday I would go to remote island to teach music for free.
Thats my dream.
God bless you all...
From Dawn Yoder
Posted on April 21, 2012 at 2:11 AM
Thank you all for your comments! I had no idea if anyone would even read this, then I log in to see all these great, encouraging replies...and THEN as I'm reading the Top Blogs, I see mine is there! Definitely did not expect that, but indeed pleasing to see.

It's also encouraging to hear that people have started playing at an older age than I and have been able to do well. I'm not aiming to join an orchestra or be famous...I just want to play. But I've read a few comments around essentially saying that it's really a great experience - I'm open to it, if the opportunity should present itself I guess, but it's not my goal.

@michael, I'm so thankful that my family is supportive, but I know that waking them up in the middle of the night would not go over well at all!! Honestly, I wouldn't mind annoying the neighbors ha ha...they tend to be rather loud, and we're in houses not apartments. I do try to be respectful though. And I agree with you completely that playing for spiritual enrichment is better than playing for money!

@Marsha, I'm glad I could put your feelings into words...I wasn't quite sure I was exactly saying what I was feeling, but you get it ;) I guess you either get it or you don't, and if you don't, you're probably not real interested in playing the violin!

@Ronny...oh, I love the cello too! It's not a very "practical" instrument, at least not for me...not very portable. I wouldn't mind learning that some day as well.

Again, thank you all for the encouragement! It really means a lot (:

From Emily Hogstad
Posted on April 21, 2012 at 3:44 PM
Oh, do aim to join an orchestra at some point. Have that be a goal, if only a five year one. (You may be feel comfortable playing in one sooner, depending on your progress and the groups in your community. In my group we have people who have only been playing a couple years.) You will meet new people, get the chance to play for appreciative audiences, and learn repertoire in an exciting new way. It will also improve your rhythm and sight-reading abilities. I can't recommend it enough.

Thanks again for the blog!

From Dottie Case
Posted on April 22, 2012 at 12:31 PM
Dawn....bravo and welcome! I began at age 36 and can tell you that you may well surprise yourself! My original goal was simply to be good enough to play in church without inducing cringes. Well, I can say that that goal was far far exceeded long ago. I play with my local symphony, where I am the flex person, going from Violin 1 to Viola as needed. We played an amazing concert last night which included The Mother Goose Suite by Ravel, 4th Movement of Sheherezade and many other major works. Bravo to you and a tip from me.... focus focus focus on the bow. When the bow hand is good enough to be able to dance around on the string, you'll have acquired freedom. Cheers!
From Courtland Bates
Posted on April 22, 2012 at 10:23 PM
Hi Dawn. Greetings from Macon, GA.

I, too, decided to learn the violin as part of my midlife crisis. I've been taking lessons since September, and have my first recital next Sunday -- 4 pieces including two solos. I'm excited!

Your language analogy is apt. I split my time between learning to read music, and just "picking" tunes by ear. Sometimes you can play a note, and realize that it's part of a melody you know, and before you know it, you're playing the whole thing. (Try the Star Spangled Banner - it's actually pretty easy to learn since you probably know it by heart.)

You might like the viola, as well. You can take the same fingerings and play, applying what you've learned from the violin. (You just space your fingers out a tad more, and apply a little more pressure to your bowing.) The deepness of the C touches my soul.

Regarding disturbing your family, try practicing with a mute. It really helps.

Good luck, and if you'd like to keep in touch, I can be reached at or on Facebook.



ps: If you have the ability to record yourself playing, I encourage it. I have video of myself from my very first time, and it's amazing how far I've come in such a short time (if I do say so myself!)

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